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Newest Rangers ready to jump in the lineup

by Dan Rosen
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Neither Derek Morris nor Nik Antropov had all of their belongings packed Wednesday morning, but both admit they had at least half their bags stuffed in anticipation of hopping on a plane later in the day.

All the trade rumors swirling around them were enough preparation for what inevitably happened just before 3 p.m. ET on the busiest day of transactions in the NHL season.

Right around the same time, Morris and Antropov received word from their respective general managers that they were headed to the New York Rangers, who host the Boston Bruins at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday in the NHL on NBC Game of the Week.

"I kind of packed the basics and I told my wife she could ship the rest out if she had to," Morris said. "All I really needed was a coat and my suits."

Morris said Thursday morning at Nassau Coliseum, following his first workout with his new team, he first heard "inklings" of the trade at around 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, but didn't find out officially from Phoenix General Manager Don Maloney until 20 minutes later. He then got a call from the Rangers asking if he could be on a plane by 4 p.m.

"I said, 'Yeah, I'll be on one,'" the newest Blueshirts defenseman said. "I packed her up, went and got my kids out of school, said good-bye to them and I was on the plane by 4 o'clock."

Antropov got a call from Toronto GM Brian Burke just before 3 p.m. Soon after word broke of his trade, he began receiving dozens of text messages and phone calls wishing him well. Even Rangers coach John Tortorella called, but he had to leave a message.

"Brian Burke told me, 'You're a Ranger now, good luck.' That's about it," Antropov said. "I knew I was going to go somewhere, I just didn't know where. I was halfway packed."

With the whirlwind behind them, the two veterans -- who are slated for unrestricted free agency after the season -- seem genuinely thrilled to be part of a playoff race again.

They are each coming from teams that are attempting to build around youth, but the Rangers' moves this week, including the re-acquisition of Sean Avery, are further proof GM Glen Sather and Tortorella are thinking in the short-term.

"I think it's helped our club," Tortorella said. "It has addressed the issues of some size (adding Antropov). Sean brings us some push with our forechecking and hopefully Derek can help our power play score some goals."

Tortorella expects to keep Antropov at right wing, likely on the second line with Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky. Morris will play on the power play and likely partner with Paul Mara, his former teammate in Phoenix. Avery seems like a natural fit on the Rangers' third line, with Lauri Korpikoski and Ryan Callahan.

With the rest of the lineup staying status quo, the Rangers all of a sudden look like a team with more depth, size and punch. How it translates on the ice will determine if this team can regain the swagger it had earlier this season and lock up a playoff berth they still are fighting for. The Rangers came out of the deadline seventh in the Eastern Conference with 72 points, one more than ninth-place Buffalo.

"I think it begins to slot some people where I think they should be," Tortorella said. "Now that the deadline is over you concentrate on playing as a unit. I'm really anxious to see what Antropov has with that big size of his. I think that's really important for our club."

Antropov may be coming to the Rangers at the perfect time for both the team and the player. His energy should be at a high level because he's back in a playoff race after being out of one for some time in Toronto. His game should be at a high level because he is playing for a big contract. And, his name finally is out of the rumor mill, where he says it's been "for the last eight years, I guess."

"Yeah, he got kicked around a little bit there in Toronto," said Tortorella. "Even in Tampa there were some rumors that we were talking about making deals and he would be coming (to the Lightning) a number of years ago. I have always been interested in him because of his size and his ability to score goals. I mean, he's got 21 (goals) and 46 points this year. There is a lot to him.

"The question has always been consistency and I think the coaches have to take a little bit of responsibility to make him consistent. We sometimes forget that we have a little bit to do with that also, as far as coaching, so I'm going to grab a hold of that really quickly because I think he can be a really important guy as we're trying to get in here."

Morris has experience with joining a new team. He was traded from Colorado to Phoenix at the deadline in 2004. He also played in Calgary for the first five seasons (1997-2002) of his NHL career.

"I was fortunate to play with some real good players (in Colorado), but I have never been surrounded by talent like this," Morris said. "It's going to be fun, exciting and I think this team is going the right way.

"If we can rattle off a bunch of wins in a row here and get that tempo going and get used to the system Torts is installing, we're going to do real well in the playoffs."

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